Beware the ghostly radiant boys

March 04, 2019

ONE type of ghost that is as creepy as it is tragic is that of what are collectively called the “Radiant Boys.” The phenomenon mostly has its origins in the lore Northern England and in Germany, where they are called the “kindermorderinn.”

The origins of these restless spirits is that of great tragedy, as they are said to be the ghosts of children who were murdered by their own mothers, something which has doomed them to walk the earth not only as ghosts, but also as portent of disaster and harbingers of death. Indeed, it is said that to see a Radiant Boy is a sure sign that bad luck or death is to follow, making them a frightening paranormal force that no one wants to come across, and they have become entrenched as a rather creepy landmark upon the world of ghostly phenomena.

The reasons for why these mothers should want to kill their children are varied, but back in the 1600s and 1700s, when the dark stories began to really take off, it was mostly because of kids being born out of wedlock, a big taboo at the time, or simply out of the fact that the parents did not have enough money to support them, leading them to resort to murder. In other, more sinister cases, women did it in order to exploit a medieval law that said that second wives could inherit their husband’s property if all his children had passed away, giving these mothers a financial incentive for the coldblooded murder of a loved one.

The great majority of the eerie Radiant Boy phenomenon and sightings originate from Germany in the 1600s, and then fan out to the areas of Cumberland and Northumberland in the northern part of England along with the many German immigrants during the 18th and 19th centuries. There are numerous reports of encounters with these apparitions, which are usually described as looking like glowing young boys, or more rarely girls, who usually appear nude and are bathed in a luminous light that can be a variety of colors. The entities themselves are often indifferent to their surroundings, but cast off a rather unsettling atmosphere that typically leaves the witness in a state of shock.

By far the most famous case of an apparent Radiant Boy occurred in September of 1803, at a place called Corby Castle, in Cumbria, England, which was the ancestral home of the powerful Howard family. Here a Reverend Henry of Redburgh visited with his wife for the evening, and it would turn out to be quite a harrowing night, not the least in part because they were put up for the night in a room of the castle that was rather known for being quite haunted. The Howard patriarch would say himself of this singularly creepy room:

I must observe that it is by no means remote or solitary, being surrounded on all sides by chambers that are constantly inhabited. It is accessible by a passage cut through a wall eight feet in thickness, and its dimensions are twenty-one by eighteen. One side of the wainscotting is covered with tapestry, the remainder is decorated with old family pictures, and some ancient pieces of embroidery, probably the handiwork of nuns. Over a press, which has doors of Venetian glass, is an ancient oaken figure, with a battle-axe in his hand, which was one of those formerly placed on the walls of the City of Carlisle, to represent guards.

There used to be also an old-fashioned bed and some dark furniture in this room; but so many were the complaints of those who slept there, that I was induced to replace some of these articles of furniture by more modern ones, in the hope of removing a certain air of gloom, which I thought might have given rise to the unaccountable reports of apparitions and extraordinary noises which were constantly reaching us. But I regret to say, I did not succeed in banishing the nocturnal visitor, which still continues to disturb our friends.

The Reverend would stay in this room of foreboding, drifting off to sleep as a fire roared in the fireplace to keep the chill at bay, and would write of the events that followed in his journal, saying:

Soon after we went to bed, we fell asleep; it might be between one and two in the morning when I awoke. I observed that the fire was totally extinguished; but, although that was the case, and we had no light, I saw a glimmer in the centre of the room, which suddenly increased to a bright flame. I looked out, apprehending that something had caught fire, when, to my amazement, I beheld a beautiful boy, clothed in white, with bright locks resembling gold, standing by my bedside, in which position he remained some minutes, fixing his eyes upon me with a mild and benevolent expression. He then glided gently towards the side of the chimney, where it is obvious there is no possible egress, and entirely disappeared. I found myself again in total darkness, and all remained quiet until the usual hour of rising. I declare this to be a true account of what I saw at Corby Castle, upon my word as a clergyman.

The very next day the Reverend and his wife made a rather hasty departure from the castle, reportedly saying as they did so, “I am very sorry, but we must absolutely leave you this morning.” Another, more sinister case of a Radiant Boy was supposedly experienced by a Lord Castlereagh, who had once gone by the name of Captain Robert Stewart in his younger days, which he was known by at the time of his brush with the paranormal. At the time he was stationed in Ireland, and one day had gone out out hunting in the countryside when the weather turned foul. As soon as he realized that a storm was moving in, it also dawned on him that he had strayed so far out in his search of game that he no longer could find his way back.

The story goes that he wandered about the wilderness before coming to a home sitting out there, where he requested shelter for the night. His room was a modest affair with scarcely any furniture and a small fireplace in the corner. He soon drifted off to sleep, but was pried from his world of dreams by a brilliant light that seemed to bathe the entire room. The book Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, by Butler Yeats, says of this encounter:

He believed he had slept about a couple of hours when he awoke suddenly, and was startled by such a vivid light in the room that he thought it on fire, but on turning to look at the grate he saw the fire was out, though it was from the chimney the light proceeded.

He sat up in bed, trying to discover what it was, when he perceived the form of a beautiful naked boy, surrounded by a dazzling radiance. The boy looked at him earnestly, and then the vision faded, and all was dark. Captain Stewart, so far from supposing what he had seen to be of a spiritual nature, had no doubt that the host, or the visitors, had been trying to frighten him. Accordingly, he felt indignant at the liberty, and on the following morning, when he appeared at breakfast, he took care to evince his displeasure by the reserve of his demeanour, and by announcing his intention to depart immediately.

The owner of the house would then admit that the room was hardly ever used, and that was because there was purportedly the ghost of a family ancestor who had been killed by his own mother lurking there, and that the fire had been meant to keep the malicious spirit away. It was also said that to see the boy was a bad omen, and that indeed the cursed room had been off-limits for years, with it only opened to him because so many other guests had been staying there at the same time. It was ominously said that whoever was to see the Radiant Boy would rise in power only to have it ripped away to leave a gaping wound, followed by a horrible death, which fit in quite well with the existing Radiant Boy legend as a whole.

Indeed, this encounter would apparently live up to its reputation, and bring with it some of the darker lore surrounding the appearance of Radiant Boys, and although he would become a prominent political figure in the following years, Stewart would suddenly see his fortunes dwindle and a great many tragedies would befall his family. First his father died, which is how he took up the mantle of Lord Castlereagh, second Marquis of Londonderry, and his older brother would also die in a boating accident, then things would take a nosedive. His fortunes dwindled spectacularly, his health failed him, and his sanity began to slip over the brink of madness, forcing him to be confined to his country house, called North Cray Place. In the end, he would ede over the brink of the abyss of madness and take his own life in 1822 with a razor across the throat, fulfilling the grim prophecy that seeing the Radiant Boy would bring about a violent death.

Yet another supposed Radiant Boy is said to haunt Chillingham Castle, a medieval castle in Chillingham, Northumberland in the northern part of Northumberland, England. The castle was originally a monastery back in the 12th century, after which it went on to become a strategic location in medieval times, playing a big role in the battles between England and Scotland, and in later years an army barracks during World War II. Throughout it all there have been the stories of the castle’s Radiant Boy, who appears as a young, naked boy surrounded with a blue glow, that terrorizes an area of the castle called “The Pink Room.” The castle is so haunted, in fact, that it has been the target of several investigations by several famous TV paranormal programs, such as Most Haunted and Scariest Places on Earth.

These are only a few of the many reports of these ghostly, glowing children, this species of wraith that has appeared to frighten and in some cases bring dire misfortune. Is this all legend and lore, or is there something else to it? Are these the ghostly, tragic children of legend, killed by their own mothers and left to roam the world of the living to bring fear and strife? Or are these just spooky stories handed down through the ages? Whatever the case may be, the lore of the Radiant Boys is just as frightening as it is sad, and one hopes that if they truly are real, then they will somehow find peace in the end.